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Church State Issues

Blogosphere buzzes over city's jailing of preacher

Jul 23, 2012

Arizona Republic

Even if I am an atheist I think this guy has a First Amendment right to hold Bible study classes in his home.

Blogosphere buzzes over city's jailing of preacher

by Dustin Gardiner - Jul. 23, 2012 12:27 PM

The Republic

Phoenix's jailing of a preacher who held religious gatherings in his home despite numerous code and other violations has elicited an outcry in the conservative blogosphere.

Michael Salman is serving 60 days for failing to comply with building, fire and zoning codes. City officials said he has never received the appropriate building permit for the facility where he hosts services twice a week for up to 80 people.

The story seemed to go viral last week after a segment on Fox News aired, framing the issue as a matter of religious freedom. Salman's supporters have said he's being targeted for his Christian faith. They contend the Bible studies are private, involving only family and friends.

"Well, apparently you can't hold private Bible studies on your own property, at least he couldn't," Fox anchor Steve Doocy said as he introduced the segment with Salman's wife. "You're doing a private Bible study. People do that in my neighborhood all the time."

John Whitehead of the Washington, D.C.-based Rutherford Institutealso appeared, saying Salman is being discriminated against because of his religion. The newscast didn't disclose that Whitehead is Salman's lawyer.

Phoenix officials have described the years-long dispute with Salman much differently. They said the large gatherings at his home pose safety concerns. Evidence presented at trial contradicted his claim that the services are private.

Mayor Greg Stanton responded to outrage over the case in a Facebook post the afternoon after the Fox segment aired, saying the city's sole concern in the situation is safety. The city has said Salman's home lacks exit signs, fire sprinklers and enough doors.

"As mayor, I will always do my best to ensure our city protects the First Amendment rights of everyone," Stanton wrote. "By the same token, I will also ensure life-safety protections are appropriately enforced."

The mayor's post drew a string of lengthy and heated exchanges from Facebook users, including several claiming to be Salman's followers.

"If this had been a tailgating party, nobody would have said a word," one woman wrote. "A private assembly in a private home is NONE of the city's business."

Another poster responded: "Sorry, but 80 people is not Bible study in a living room. ... The city can absolutely shut down any place that is not safe and can create a hazard to human life."